I’ll never forget the day I received a friend request from my 85-year-old grandma on Facebook. Grandma has always been a technophile, but now a social media maven too? Sure enough, there she was smiling at me from her profile picture, with her wire-rimmed glasses, leopard-print blazer and perfectly coiffed hair.
What did this experience teach me? That the whole world is online. I say this because some people still think having a good LinkedIn profile only matters if you are job searching. Not so. LinkedIn is the professional equivalent of Facebook, with fewer crazy cat videos. And its popularity is growing.
In a 2015 digital and content survey of U.S. in-house counsel, 70% said they use LinkedIn to connect with outside counsel, up from 56% in 2014. Nearly 40% of those in-house counsel said they use LinkedIn to research outside counsel. That’s why it’s worth investing a few hours perfecting your profile. It may be the first impression you make. Here are 10 tips to help you make the most of that impression.
1. Complete your profile.
Fill out as much of your profile as possible. The more information you include, the more connections you’ll make. This means listing all your former and current employers in the Experience section, your undergraduate and graduate schools under Education and all the organizations you belong to. The more information you provide, the more ways people from different parts of your life can find and connect with you.
2. Create a custom URL.
When you create a profile, LinkedIn will automatically generate a URL for you. But it will be lengthy with numerous letters and numbers. Instead, change it to your first and last name so you have a clean URL to use elsewhere, such as in your email signature or on your business card. If your name is taken, try adding a middle initial or your middle name. No matter when you created your profile, you can edit your URL at any time.
3. Upload a professional photo.
Your profile is seven times more likely to be viewed if you have a photo, according to research from LinkedIn. People like to put a face with a name. So upload a professional headshot, not one from your Caribbean cruise or one in which it looks like your date was cut out. And to avoid looking like a 1950s film star, make sure it’s in color, not black and white.
4. Write a descriptive headline.
When you are setting up your profile, LinkedIn will ask you to create a professional “headline” that will appear beneath your name. Many people put “[Position] at [Firm Name.]” I would encourage you to be more specific by using your title and a detail about the type of work you do, such as “Baker McKenzie Associate advising on IT law.” If your title is self explanatory, then just use that unless you want to earn bonus points by adding your professional objective such as, “Marketing Manager who helps corporations build award-winning brands.”
5. Use first person point of view.
A LinkedIn profile is more personal than a bio or CV, so you should use first person in your summary, experience and any other sections you include. This is social media; it’s as odd to use third person on LinkedIn as it would be to use it on Facebook. So embrace the almighty “I,” as in “I’m an associate at Baker McKenzie who advises clients on private equity law.” You should also use complete sentences rather than CV speak. For example, say, “I am a business development manager who helps our banking practice groups win clients” rather than “Business development manager who helps the banking practice group win clients.”
6. Create a summary.
Many people only list their jobs in the Experience section and leave the summary field blank. That’s a mistake. The summary is your opportunity to introduce yourself. Think of it as your elevator pitch. Who are you as a professional? What do you have to offer? What are your greatest accomplishments? In one or two paragraphs, sum up the answers to these questions to provide a snapshot of your career.
7. Describe your experience.
The trick to filling out the Experience section is providing just the right amount of information, not too little and not too much. Some people only list their titles and employers without any explanation. Others describe each job in excruciating detail. The best balance is listing all of your recent jobs with one-paragraph descriptions of each. When writing these descriptions, strive to go beyond explaining what you do by including why you do what you do. For example, most people write something like, “I advise multinational companies on mergers and acquisitions.” To take it a step further, provide an explanation for why you advise multinationals on mergers and acquisitions, such as, “I advise multinational companies on mergers and acquisitions to help them expand their global footprints, improve efficiency and acquire new talent and product lines.”
8. Take advantage of additional sections.
LinkedIn offers a number of additional sections you can use to make your profile more complete. If you do pro bono or volunteer work, you can list those projects in the Volunteer Experience section. If you or your practice group has won awards, be sure to include them in the Honors & Awards section. You can also list the organizations you belong to, as well as the languages you speak. The more information you provide about yourself, the more complete the professional picture you provide for viewers and the more connections you will make.
9. Get recommendations.
Getting recommendations is important because they allow other people to speak for your work. They are essentially your online references. Recommendations are different from endorsements because they require that those who recommend you write a brief summary of their experience working with you, not just click a button that says they endorse you for a certain skill. You should strive to have at least five recommendations from a variety of people who have known you at various points in your career. If you’re new to the job market, get recommendations from your college professors, fellow students or those you worked with during internships.
10. Update your profile every three months.
Now that you’ve created a strong profile, make sure to update it any time you have more news to share about your career training and accomplishments, such as new awards, promotions, educational achievements, and important projects or deals. We all get busy and forget to do these routine tasks, so it may help to put a reminder on your calendar every three months to prompt yourself.
By implementing these 10 tips, you’ll have a polished, professional profile that is guaranteed to stand out from the rest. It’s easy to build and maintain a strong online presence once you get the hang of it. If my grandma can master social media, so can you.
Note to readers: This post was written while I was conducting writing workshops for the lawyers and business services professionals at Baker McKenzie, where I wrote and edited the law firm’s thought leadership content for eight years. In the post, I rely on examples from Baker McKenzie communications and refer to the firm in the first person because I worked there at the time of writing.